Sault to help push forward lobbying effort to allow cities to tax property sales

The City of Sault Ste. Marie is helping to push forward an initiative that could see northern municipalities allowed to introduce their own tax on property sales.

City council passed a resolution Monday to support the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) in its efforts to lobby for the ability to introduce municipal land transfer tax.

"The City of Toronto is the only municipality in the province that is able to do this," said Sandra Hollingsworth, city councillor and FONOM board member. "Toronto has many more revenue-generating tools than the rest of the municipalities. We're just trying to create a fair, even platform."

Toronto has been able to charge its own land transfer tax since 2006. More than a decade later, that same feature hasn't been extended to the rest of the municipalities in the province.

"It's just another tool in a toolbox," said Hollingsworth. "I'm not saying we should use it, I just want to send a message to Doug Ford, we need a lot more revenue generating tools and we need to be treated equal."

But Sault Ste. Marie's real estate board is warning against the push.

While rebates would be granted to first-time home buyers, the president of the board said buyers looking to dip into the market again would be discouraged.

"We are in the middle of an affordable housing crisis," said Tracey Rutkauskas. "City councillors should be focused on making housing more affordable and not looking to hit their residents with thousands of dollars of new taxes on their new dream home."

First-time homebuyers are eligible to receive a maximum of $4,000 rebated from the first $368,000 of the value on eligible homes.

On a year-to-date basis, Sault Ste. Marie's average home price is $267,887. But Rutkauskas said it's rising rapidly, with a nearly 50 per cent increase in just two years.

"This could set a dangerous precedent for affordability," she said. "It does nothing to address the real issue affecting the current housing market, the need for more supply."

Hollingsworth said she recognizes what introducing such a tax in the Sault could mean for potential home buyers. It's why she said if given the chance to vote on it at council, she would vote against it.

"I am just supporting FONOM, being a board member, in giving other municipalities the ability to use this tool," she said.

"It's once again, going back to Doug Ford and saying this is a start of many more requests, to make sure the playing field is equal between Toronto and us."

Hollingsworth said FONOM will be compiling a list of other tools offered to Toronto that is not extended to northern municipalities, with an eventual goal of picking and choosing which ones to lobby the province for.